‘The terrorists are winning the online war’
Should internet companies be doing more to stop online radicalisation? This week The Telegraph exposed a video of British jihadis in ISIS territory. Many had been recruited on the internet.
They are known as “The Beatles”. Four young British men, slouched on sofas and armchairs, phones in hand. There are few clues indicating their location: they could be in any living room in England waiting for a takeaway to arrive. But a rifle leaning against the wall gives the game away.
The footage, obtained by The Telegraph, comes from the Islamic State (ISIS) in 2014. The men are four jihadis. Three of them are now dead, including Mohammed Emwazi (aka “Jihadi John”), the masked executioner who murdered James Foley, Alan Henning, Peter Kassig and others.
The other man is Raymond Matimba, a Zimbabwean convert to Islam. He was an associate of Salman Abedi, the Manchester Arena bomber, and his whereabouts are still unknown.
The video proves for the first time that Britain’s most notorious jihadists all knew each other. Many of them first met online. One of the group’s members is Junaid Hussain, a friend of whom has said: “He wasn't radicalised by a mosque, or by ISIS. He was radicalised by a computer.” Hussain became one of ISIS’s most prolific online recruiters.
Last week a report by the Policy Exchange think-tank found that 65% of British people thought that internet companies were not doing enough to counter online radicalisation.
The report found that jihadi content was accessed more frequently in the UK than anywhere else in Europe. The country is in fifth place globally behind Turkey, the USA, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
Although ISIS propaganda has declined on everyday platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, the group has been able to maintain a consistent output of videos, radio bulletins and magazines via encrypted apps like Telegram, as well as its own network of websites.
On the other hand, Graeme Wood, an expert on ISIS, has pointed out that the vast majority of foreign fighters are not primarily radicalised online. Almost every person who has travelled to fight for the Islamic State knows someone in real life who went before. Online propaganda merely keeps the flame alive.
“Internet companies must do more,” say many Western leaders. Theresa May has called for companies to “go further and faster in automating the detection and removal of terrorist content online”. The internet can spread ideas from the Syrian desert to Birmingham or Marseille in a second. Solve that, and you solve the problem.
“But the terrorists will always be one step ahead,” reply sceptics. Take them off Twitter, and they will re-emerge elsewhere. And in any case, this is a huge distraction. The IRA was able to plot attacks and recruit combatants long before the internet arrived. Tackling the social and ideological causes of radicalisation is the answer.
- Can internet companies be blamed for online radicalisation?
- Why do you think people go to fight for the Islamic State?
- Write down five questions you would like to ask someone who travelled to fight for ISIS.
- Find an article (perhaps one of the links in Become An Expert) that attempts to explain the causes of terrorism. In five minutes, sum up the views expressed in the article and explain whether you agree with them.
Some People Say...
“The internet, by its nature, creates extremists.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- A report has found that a large majority of people feel that internet companies should be doing more to combat online radicalisation. Just a week after the report was published, a video emerged of four of Britain’s most infamous ISIS fighters together in Syria in 2014. It is believed that many of them initially met online. Now several European leaders have urged internet companies to “get ahead” of the terrorists to prevent online recruitment.
- What do we not know?
- Whether this form of recruitment can ever be eliminated entirely. A lot of jihadist activity takes place on the “dark web”, the part of the internet that cannot be accessed by ordinary search engines. This makes it far harder to regulate.
- Mohammed Emwazi
- Emwazi was killed in a US drone strike in 2015. He was of Iraqi origin and had lived in north-west London before moving to Islamic State territories.
- James Foley, Alan Henning, Peter Kassig and others
- The graphic videos of these deaths all followed a similar pattern: a desert background, the victim in an orange jumpsuit and Emwazi making a statement before killing his victim.
- Raymond Matimba
- Matimba had previously been considered a peripheral figure, but the man who covertly filmed the Telegraph’s video says that he played a vital role in training snipers.
- Experts have noticed a decline in the quality of ISIS’s main propaganda magazine, Dabiq, which had once been a highly professional-looking publication.
- Whereby messages are coded in such a way that only authorised parties can see them.